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BitTorrent Sync Flies Around the Cloud

BitTorrent Sync Flies Around the Cloud

File transfers and syncing go peer-to-peer with Wednesday's launch of BitTorrent Sync, a possible competitor to the likes of Dropbox and iCloud. Company officials say using P2P technology to move files of any size happens faster and in a more secure environment than cloud-based services. BitTorrent Sync is still in alpha mode, so the company says it's open to feedback regarding missing features such as versioning and mobile support.

By Richard Adhikari
04/24/13 3:00 PM PT

The peer-to-peer technology company BitTorrent this week introduced the alpha version of BitTorrent Sync, a service that will let people sync and transfer files between multiple devices.

"There are no file size limits, and the speed of transfer is only limited by your Internet connection," said Brett Nishi, director of product management at BitTorrent. "Because there is no cloud-based server involved, your files are also kept private and stored only on devices to which you grant access."

All traffic on the service is encrypted using a 32-bit key the company calls a "secret". There are three types of secrets -- master, which provides users full access to all files being shared or synced; read-only, which is for one-way sync; and one-time secrets, which offer both access and read-only access.

Read-only and one-time secrets may only be generated for folders operated by master secrets.

Users can generate new secrets for a folder or replace an existing secret with their own Base64 string if it is more than 40 characters long.

BitTorrent Sync is "moving into a field that's already pretty crowded with other offerings," Charles King, principal at Pund-IT Research told TechNewsWorld. "It could be attractive to certain kinds of users and certain kinds of projects because it's built for overly large files, but I'm not sure that it would really be that tempting to companies that are already happy with solutions like Box or Dropbox."

More on BitTorrent Sync

The BitTorrent Sync service, first announced in January, runs on Windows and Mac OS devices. It also runs on versions of Linux that can be installed on computers, and on network attached storage (NAS) devices running Linux on ARM, PowerPC, i386 and x86 64-bit architectures.

A BitTorrent forum says supported NAS devices include some models from Synology, QNAP, Western Digital, iOmega, ZyXel and D-Link. The service also supports the Raspberry Pi computer.

When a file is added to a shared folder, the changes begin syncing immediately on all systems except Mac OS X 10.6, where they may be delayed by up to 10 minutes because of system peculiarities. If a user changes a file inside a shared folder, syncing will begin after the file is saved or closed.

Keeping Track of Files

Only the latest version of a synced file is saved. BitTorrent Sync will sync the latest file added to it even if that's not the newest version of the file.

This may be a problem because "one of the arguments for sites like this, and it's particularly the case when you talk to people like Box, Dropbox and others, is that these sites are designed to facilitate collaborative development," King said. "If you're working on a long report into which multiple people have input editorial capabilities, you don't want a single file being overwritten repeatedly without being able to tell what changes various people have made."

In applications that have any sort of compliance oversight, "by definition you almost have to be able to trace back the history of changes made to a given project," he added. "Overwriting would not be appropriate in that event."

BitTorrent Sync is an alpha product, Nishi told TechNewsWorld. "We've focused on the core technology of syncing, reliability and control in the Alpha." As the company moves to the beta release it will "solidify those characteristics and add functionality based on users' experience and feedback."

Versioning, which is where older copies of synced files are saved, "is certainly of interest to our users and is something we are evaluating."


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